1 Music, Ink.: The Quiet Genius of SNL's 'Girlfriends Talk Show'


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Quiet Genius of SNL's 'Girlfriends Talk Show'

In a Saturday Night Live season populated by A-list guest stars and political comedy ranging from brilliant jabs to the harvesting of comically ripe but low-hanging fruit, most thinkpieces about the show are bound to be about how the show did or did not rise to the challenge of its endowed cultural relevance. In fact, I've got a blog post about one of those in the works, so keep an eye out for it. But one of my favorite recurring SNL sketches in recent memory is "Girlfriends Talk Show."

If you're not familiar with "Girlfriends Talk Show," it features Cecily Strong as Kira, a socially fluid girl-next-door type, and her best friend, Morgan, an irreparably awkward nerd played to perfection by Aidy Bryant. What begins as a fairly basic premise -- teenage girls having a talk show where they talk about the banalities of their middle-class suburban lives -- unfolds to delightfully nuanced effect in every return of the sketch.

If asked why a gender-balanced (or at least near-gender-balanced) writing staff/cast on a comedy show is important, look no further than the brilliant scripts behind "Girlfriends Talk Show," as well as the sharp comedic timing of its two stars. Kira and Morgan are rendered subtly and skillfully; though the too-cool guests that Strong's Kira brings on at the last minute to ambush Morgan drive a wedge between the two vastly different friends, the recurrence of the sketch provides the only evidence we need that their bond is impenetrable. There's nothing quite like the irrational, unconditional love of tween and teen female friendship. I can attest to this, and I'm sure the writers behind the sketch-- whether just Bryant and Strong or some other unseen collaborative partners--can attest to it, too.

While SNL thrives on political commentary, fake game shows and commercials, and original sketches that blossom into the ridiculous, "Girlfriends Talk Show" never veers too far into the implausible. While Kira's recurrent descriptions of her "older boyfriend" are deliriously specific and absurd, they do a remarkable job of coloring Kira's character in unexpected ways. Kira is the bridge between the painfully nerdy Morgan and the cool (or attempting-to-be-cool) guest of the week, not just because of her history with Morgan, but because her attachment to this clearly disturbed, age-inappropriate boyfriend with bizarre fetishes indicates deeper psychological wounds than her chipper personality will let on. When Morgan "brags" about being the shoulder to cry on for her mom's divorced friend, we get the impression that she is the support system for Kira, as well. Morgan is a fish out of water, and almost takes solace in her geekiness. Kira is just as lost in the world as her best friend, perhaps even more so, but she's better at faking poise.

"Girlfriends Talk Show" further establishes its credibility with its constant references to "best" friendship, an ever-shifting teen lexicon, and the air of desperation surrounding even the coolest of guests--Scarlett Johansson's character obsessively mentions her Mercedes, Jennifer Lawrence's refers to her visits to New York City at every possible opportunity, and Amy Adams' turn involves humiliating Morgan, though Adams' character has nothing to gain and Bryant's has everything to lose. The highlight of every iteration, in my opinion, is when Morgan completely loses her cool with the guest, so embarrassed and frustrated that she bombards them with nonsensical insults. (One of my favorites involves the phrase "bitch sandwich;" another is "roach warehouse"). Even when the awkward old soul wants to come to bat with snide commentary of her own, she is utterly incapable--which, of course, is why Kira secretly loves her in the first place.

I can't speak to authorial intent in this sketch--I don't know if the writers know exactly why these characters so hilarious, or just why the gimmick works even after multiple revivals--and I certainly don't think anyone would consider this sketch the height of cinema, or the height of comedy. But the layers to this female friendship are what make it work, and what make it so damn funny every time it comes back.

(Also, in case you haven't noticed, I was a Morgan. Let's be honest. I'm STILL a Morgan. Love to all my Kiras.)

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